Self help is one of those areas that we’re not very good at starting let alone maintaining. More often than not it costs nothing more than a little of our time, so why don’t we do it more?
In various times of my life I’ve turned to journalling. I’ve found that it can bring you clarity, help you to organise your thoughts, can be a way to offload thoughts that are preying on your mind, bring you focus and release you to doing better things with your time.
Undoubtably, the patches, gels, creams and tablets prescribed by your Doctor will handle your physical symptoms, but your emotional wellbeing still needs to be taken care of. Your mental health needs you to take that first step!
Here I draw from my own experiences in the hope that it gives you an insight into my mental health, the struggles and successes. It’s vitally important to focus on the positive as well as the negative and I hope that in time you’ll start to listen to the more positive of your own inner voices.
Recognise the need for help
I am guilty like you of putting the needs of others well above my own. For years, even before my surgery which lead to my Medical Menopause, my priority list looked a bit like this:
The needs of the many always outweighed my own needs, or thats how I arranged the order of priority. The silly thing is had a friend sat me down and had told me that their needs came at the bottom of their own expansive list, I would have pointed out that all of those other list items (people) depended on them and they (my friend) owed it to themselves to take better care!
So, is it time for us to become more objective and consider our general and mental wellbeing as a close friend?
We’re only too happy to pitch in with our thoughts and opinions when our friends are in need. Surely now is the time to befriend ourselves, especially when we’re too proud to ask for help.
The best medium for journalling
My advice is to keep it simple to start. Yes you could start by investing time and money seeking out a journal that ticks all of your boxes, but as you’d soon discover, these are as rare as Unicorn poo you might say!
There are MANY journalling apps available, but I’ve never found anything that I would tinker with long after the free trial period expires and that subscription kicks in.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve whiled away many hours musing over journals in various retail outlets. I’m drawn in by motivational statements embossed on their pretty front covers.
Titles like ‘My Thoughts Journal’, ‘100 Days to Happiness’ and my favourite ‘Doing this for me’. Then you spend days answering questions set out by the journal designer, questions or tasks that are neither pertinent to you and your journalling needs.
Once such example I was looking at was a particular journal that I found on a website. For day 46 the heading was ‘Cook Something New’ followed by ‘Write a list of priorities’ for the next day. Top of my priority list would be to throw that journal in the bin and to start with a blank page.
What’s your why?
What kind of heading is that I hear you ask! In order for you to start a meaningful journal, you need to figure out why you need to journal. The answer isn’t as simple as ‘To help with my mental health’.
That’s such a general statement, you need to drill down and be a bit more specific. Don’t worry if you don’t get to it straight away. This is another reason why I prefer the blank page approach.
Discovering The blank page approach
I made this discovery purely by chance. We returned from a wonderful family holiday, 2 weeks of fun, laughter and much walking. I was far from all the usual things I normally over think and over worry about.
When we got home and the dust settled, I remember thinking back to those wonderful 2 weeks and being determined to change the way I live day to day. Anxiety had affected all aspects of my life and holding me back. If change was possible, it would take effort on my part and I had to make some changes.
Brain fog and anxiety are at the forefront of my own personal daily battles. One feeds another, and then back again and so before I know it I’m in a perpetual cycle.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a running joke with my children of ‘mummy doesn’t remember anything’. The thought that I might forget something so important (or so it seems at the time) fills me with such dread that it can send my anxiety spiralling on a near constant basis.
The simplest of tasks for example can pop into my brain in one passing moment, and on the way to fulfil that task it just slips out again. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve popped to the garage only to find myself standing there with my mind having gone blank.
So with this in mind, you may think that the top of my daily journal is a To Do list. Well you’d be wrong! The last thing I need is to prioritise a list of tasks for me to complete each day.
Remember earlier when I outlined my priority list and how I was at the very bottom of it? My daily journal has a very simple format which starts with an A5 book with ruled pages.
My journal in detail
For each day I use a double page view. On the left hand page at the top the heading is THOUGHTS.
I use my daily journal to put my thoughts out there. Some days it’s like giving myself a little advice for the day. Take my entry on 4th May, just a few days after our holiday.
Don’t do everything at once.
Give yourself time to breathe.
Not a bad place to start. I have a tendency to over commit to doing too much at once. As a result I don’t end up doing as much as I set out and I’m disappointed in my subsequent failure.
On the top right page my heading is FOR ME. This is centred on giving myself permission to do a little something for myself daily. It can be something as simple as read a book, or detailing a task that you keep putting off that would really benefit you personally in the long run. Take my entry on 4th May.
Nail appointment – first in years!
No workout until I feel awake and my energy levels improve.
Don’t do too much! Take it easy.
The next heading on the bottom left page is MISC. Here I can write down parts of a shopping list to look back on when I next go shopping or as a reminders section.
Lastly on the bottom of the right page is my TO DO. Here I detail tasks I need to complete on that day and I don’t necessarily add components to that section on that day. I may add it a few days in advance so as to offload something from my brain.
Half of my battles are trying not to forget important things, so when I offload them to my journal, it gives my brain a bit of peace and less to get anxious about.
Remember: My journal provides a support mechanism for my brain fog and anxiety. I worry about forgetting stuff, and the stuff doesn’t have to be important. I worry about anything and everything I forget. Whoever said ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ clearly didn’t have Menopause!
It’s important to say that your journal will evolve over time and these headings aren’t set in stone. For your journal to be meaningful and support your needs make changes and you’ll know when you’ve hit the sweet spot!
When should you journal during the day?
To get started and to help establish the habit I sat down first thing in the morning. It was only 5 or so minutes before the children got up but it was enough time for me to to clear my head.
I have my little A5 book to hand during the day. It’s there when I need it. It also comes out with me – it’s my brain in a book almost. I jot things down when they come to mind so that the thoughts don’t slip away as quickly as they came.
Sometimes I like to get reflective and flick back to previous days, but I can also be pro-active and forward plan.
Do what’s right for you and your brain. If your brain wakes up as soon as you get into bed as mine sometimes does, get your journal out, jot some things down and go to sleep more settled.
Do’s and Don’ts of journalling
Your journal and its headings need to be relevant to you. As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of journals on the market and you’ll never find one that meets all of your needs, but don’t be afraid to take inspiration.
Don’t worry if at the weekend for example you don’t get much of a chance to journal, if at all. My weekday journal is a double page spread, but my weekend journal is a single page and centred around my thoughts and the weekends activities.
Take an 80/20 approach to journalling instead of feeling like you have to commit to every day without fail. Worried that you can’t journal because you’re too busy having fun? Enjoy being in the moment and perhaps reflect back later.
If you struggle with mood swings you can use your journal to keep a track of mood fluctuations and perhaps over time you’ll start to see triggers leading up to it.
What could you journal?
Perhaps you’d like to give journalling a try and but don’t know where to start, here are some ideas to get you started:-
Mood – each day you can rate your mood out of 5, 1 being feeling really low and 5 great, just as normal.
Aches & pains – I’ve noticed different things can ache on different days, so keep a log to see if there’s a pattern emerging.
Sleep quality – my insomnia has increased over time and I have to work at getting more consistent sleep (more later). Start by logging your bedtime, the number of times you may get up in the night, and the time you get up.
Medication – one of my major symptoms is memory loss, so I’ve found that jotting down when I apply patches/gels/creams really useful.
Exercise – logging exercise type, duration and how you feel after can help motivate you to consistently exercise. Exercise is something I use for a bit of me time and I love the endorphins that I get post workout.
There are many many things you could track daily, just make it relevant to you for it to be effective!
I journal to help bring some peace to my mind and the thoughts that are constantly whirring around. Negative thoughts, tasks I desperately don’t want to forget – you get the idea.
I stumbled across a really interesting TedTalk by Christina Bengtsson, an author, lecturer, military officer and World Champion in precision shooting. She is a top expert on focus.
During the talk she describes how a leaf relieved her of distracting thoughts at a crucial time during a competition.
She talks about how the mind struggles with focus in three distinctive ways.
- Our minds are often full of disturbing or worrying thoughts and of not being good enough.
- Constantly focussed on what we have yet to achieve instead of on the things that we already know.
- Being frustrated for not having time.
For the purposes of this article I’m giving you only a brief snapshot of the talk, but the point I hope I’m making is that your journal could almost certainly relieve you of distractive thoughts, leaving you to focus on things that matter.
Overall, the take home message that I’d like to leave you with is that you deserve to put your time and energy into the things that matter the MOST to you. But first, you must make time by eliminating distractions.
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